FICTION: Under Your Gaze by Emily Harrison

He’d been erasing me from the moment he saw me. Not that I knew it yet. Naked, perched on an uneven wooden stool. Ready and willing for the class.

I’d been a life drawing model for less than a year. It made me uncomfortable, squeamish under the lights, self-conscious to be gazed upon by eyes that could capture me so cruelly in one sweep of a brush, or unlawfully beautiful in another. But I thrived on the sensation of being so open, so bare, both literally and figuratively, so much so that I avoided analysing why.

The man in question, the one with the eraser, was unknown to me as I watched his leather boots creak from side to side under his canvas. He seemed strong, not that I could truly tell. In fact, I couldn’t tell at all. Still, I let my mind run rampant with his perceived fortitude for the duration of the class. By the time by the pencils had been put away, I was sure he would resemble some sort of model specimen. He’d pick me up and we’d leave, cradled in his arms.

I wrapped the towelling robe around myself just as creaking boots stepped out from behind the board. Olive skin, dark curled hair, thick hands, sharp jaw, solid body. I decided that I would sleep with him then and there; and after the suggestion of getting a drink turned into five, six, seven, that’s exactly what I did. I’d missed the signs of course. The drawing he’d done of me. The drawings he had of others hung in his home. The jars of erasers and sharp pencils dotted around the flat. I wilfully ignored them, focused instead, on the white bump scar he had on the right-side of his lip. I didn’t even bother getting his name.

Looks are deceiving, in more ways than one. And whilst I blame myself for fantasizing so ridiculously that the reality could only ever pale in comparison, I was still disappointed to find out that sex with creaking boots was almost exactly the same as opening and shutting a cabinet draw repeatedly, open, shut, open, shut, for eight minutes. Finished by slamming it shut and leaving it all on its own.

I didn’t call him back, or ask about his work, and decided that maybe life drawing classes were not the ideal spot to pick up men. Or women. I should have learnt that from the last incident.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later – another class, another sense of thrilling horror at my own naked body – that I saw creaking boots again. He blanked me, as I expected. Striding over to the canvas. All 6’2 of him. Yet the strangest sensation took hold as he began to draw. I knew it came from no one else, despite the room being full. Their eyes were not as critically concentrated as his. Sea green burning holes into my milk complexion.

Each line he drew, sketched and prodded, fingers tracing and marking the canvas, I felt in every part of my body.

Every crater, pit and void. Pulling me in tighter across my hips. Widening skin elsewhere. Erasing out faint lines he’d initially drafted. He jabbed at my stomach and I almost lurched in sickness. Leather boots creaking blithely as he went.

It continued for at least nine or ten orbits around the clock, big hand not small, until he left abruptly. The canvas sat solitary on its easel.

He stamped out of the room, dragging his coat along the grey stone floor, scuffing up residual dust on his exit. No one flinched. I was on the verge of tears.

He returned a month later. I was still there. I had been every week since that unnatural afternoon. Again, I came to the conclusion that analysing my decision was not worth the heartache it would’ve produced. Who knows what I might have unearthed.

This time the class was smaller. Just me, perched neatly on the stool, and three others, creaking boots included. I was at a different angle than the last time, or the first, spine curved, back slightly towards him. This was my better side. Full frontal was nauseating, I felt sweaty and feeble when I was positioned there. Too much of me on show. I could still feel the prod, prod, prod of his fingers into my soft flesh. A potter kneading with clay.

But body to the side, I was all lean curves and thick thighs, a better silhouette to capture on canvas. He kept his eyes on me, I could feel them crawling – ants along a tree.

He didn’t speak, although nor did anyone else. Only the scratching and sighing of frustrated minds filled the silence in the drab grey room.

Eleven minutes passed, I counted them out on the clock, before I felt the strange pull of the pencil once again. He’d sharpened the point. So acute it cracked when it stabbed at my skin.

I couldn’t conceive of a world where this was actually possible. Surely, I was not bound to him so tightly after one night that I felt every movement he made when he took up tools and decided to draw me. And if I was, is that all it took? I’d heard of such instances before. The muse and the artist were so intertwined they began to feel one another through the page. Through words, through painting, where every press of a key pad, every utterance regarding one another, was observed in the deepest recesses of the body. But that was different. I was not his muse, and where respect was given when it came to the artist, there was nothing of the sort between me and creaking boots. He was making me hurt. Purposefully. That I knew.

Once again it started small. Stabbing at various points in my skin, creating a sort of paint by numbers outline. Spot at the top, one incision after another, tracing my jaw, my neck, digging hard over my clavicle and onto my breast, before sliding down my ribs, and then lower, one jab after the other across my thighs, a firm press into my toe, before continuing the process in reverse, heading back to the initial point.

A knife would have done less damage.

And where before there were no physical marks upon my skin, this time, I was raw all over, white lines and red splotches visible on my body. The other two made no reaction.

The worst was yet to come. And whilst I assumed he had created stab points to then follow with another pencil, or perhaps a brush, they were in fact markings of my current figure. Not the one he wished to replicate. More of a memory guide, ‘how not to do it’. I knew this from the second my right arm began to disappear. Quite literally. A small chunk of flesh stripped away for a leaner look. Ridding it of the muscle. He’d seen the outline he’d originally drawn, and then sliced inwards.

I couldn’t tell what he’d used to do such a thing. A pencil? It felt more like a scalpel. But the canvas wasn’t cut, I knew that, I could see that it was still intact from where it rested.

He continued regardless of my confusion, or quickly rising nausea. The queasiness so heavy I struggled to move under its pressure.

Then he decided to erase my mouth. I went to touch my face, wide eyed in horror, but there was nothing, just a fresh layer of skin. Lips gone in the drag of an eraser. I began to panic. I’d stayed in a state of abject curiosity mixed with dread right until the moment I could barely breathe.

I began hauling in as much air as I could through my nose to the point where I was certain my lungs were about to burst. What I must have looked like to him and the others. I couldn’t know. And there was no sign that anyone had noticed me slowly sliding apart.

On the next inhale of air my eyes were lost. The last thing I saw was my own hand turning from solid skin into nothingness. Opaque to total transparency.

He kept my nose, seemingly finished with the rest of my face, ears gone too, and dragged one strong line straight across my body with his eraser. Through my ribs, into my guts, and down onto the top of my right thigh. In my head I was wailing, screaming for help, but nothing could be heard. Split in two I crumpled off the stool, bits of me cast haphazardly around. I felt it all, although I can’t say how. But I knew that my body was in chunks on the grey stone floor – a futile attempt at a real-life Picasso.

In a final fit of murder, for this is truly what it was, he zig zagged the eraser up from my remaining toes, calf, knee, thigh, pelvis, zig zag, zig zag, chest and then to my neck, where he stopped. Nothing was left but my head. Nothing but my nose upon it, the nose, which I recall, I’d told him I hated. It pointed downwards sharply, Roman in look. He left it till last, the final thing to exist, before he scrubbed it completely, taking the rest of me with it too.

I stopped existing. In object form at least. I no longer held a frame to house my thoughts, a body to keep me in motion. I was still in there though. Sunken into the floor. He came back again and again after that. New models, new drawings. I knew it was him by the gait of his walk. I could no longer hear it, but I felt them. The creaking boots.

No one looked for me – hard to look for a person who’d been completely erased. He knew though. He stood on my hands where they’d fallen last every time he came into the room.

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Emily Harrison

A young writer from North Yorkshire, Emily has recently discovered that she actually likes creative writing, despite everything she may have previously said. She can be found on Twitter @emily__harrison and has had work published with Idle Ink, Retreat West and The Ginger Collect.

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